Which way? Connector vs. Interstate

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2011; 3:26 PM

The Maryland Transportation Authority's Web site announces that "the ICC is about saving time in your day." A trip between the Shady Grove Metro station and Georgia Avenue using local roadways during rush hour takes 22 or 23 minutes, the transportation authority says. Using the first segment of the Intercounty Connector, the trip takes seven minutes.

Fair enough, but most commuters entering the new toll highway on the western side won't stop when they reach Georgia Avenue. Does the first segment of the ICC - which costs $1.45 at rush hour - really work as a commuter option? On Tuesday, Dr. Gridlock (Robert Thomson) and Mark Berman, who reports on morning traffic for the Dr. Gridlock blog, tested a commute from the Gaithersburg area to the D.C. line at Georgia Avenue.

Dr. Gridlock followed a traditional route, using Interstates 370, 270 and 495 to Georgia Avenue. Berman took his first trip on the Intercounty Connector. Time and tolls weren't the only factors in the outcome.

Dr. Gridlock's trip

7:45 a.m.

My 1997 Toyota RAV-4 and I leave the parking lot in front of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration office and wait for a green light and the chance to turn left onto MD 355. Traffic is so heavy that cars remain in the intersection as I turn, but it soon clears a bit and I get in the right lane for the ramp to westbound I-370.

7:47 a.m.

Trouble already. The left-side ramp from I-370 toward I-270 is jammed. Three lines of traffic are coming together, and not all of us are trying to reach I-270. Some drivers on the left want to move right onto I-270's local lanes while the rest of us move toward the "express" lanes. (What's in a name?) Traffic crawls forward, but drivers are giving each other a break and we complete our weaving merges.

7:59 a.m.

I move into third gear and reach 30 mph passing Exit 5 on I-270. I've maneuvered into the third lane from the right and am next to the high-occupancy vehicle lane, which is crowded but moving. I'm not spotting any lane violators, though it's so easy to cheat here.

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